No sooner did Tokyo and Washington settle cargo differences than another dispute flared up that could escalate unless the US accepts Northwest's arguments in defence of Japan Airlines. In a key move, Northwest has criticised United Airlines for provoking an unnecessary dispute with its hardball stance on rights beyond Japan.

JAL was waiting for Washing- ton approval to fly from Tokyo to Kona, Hawaii. But United objected, prompting DOT officials to tell JAL not to expect approval by its 1 April launch. JAL in turn complained to Japan's Ministry of Transport.

Calling its response a 'countermeasure' rather than sanctions, the MOT denied United's request for further Honolulu-Osaka frequencies and said it would defer United's request to double Los Angeles-Tokyo services.

At presstime, Washington had not responded. If history repeats itself, United will complain, Washington will propose sanctions, provoking counter-sanctions, and finally talks and a mini-deal.

This dispute is rooted in opposing views on what, if any, limits apply to US flights beyond Japan. United objected to JAL's Kona service because Tokyo is stalling on United's request from over a year ago for Osaka-Seoul flights. Tokyo insists the bilateral's 'primary objective' clause limits fifth freedom traffic, but United disagrees.

Northwest has asked Wash- ington to disregard United's complaints on the grounds that Tokyo has a defensible basis for its reading of the bilateral. Further, the DOT should comply with Tokyo's demands rather than hold JAL's Kona service hostage. If Washington ever had support in dealing with Tokyo, it is fast falling apart.

David Knibb

Source: Airline Business